The Jews of Butte County
Part Six
By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © April 01, 2015
(Originally published in the CBI Newsletter, April 2015)
A Shul Is Born
As we have seen in this series, since the early years of the California gold rush the Jews of Butte County were largely centered in Oroville and Chico. There were also small Jewish communities in Magalia, Cherokee, Gridley, and other parts of the county.1 In time, however, Chico became the primary congregational hub for area Jews, although many of us remain scattered throughout the area.

The Auditorium Hotel (to the right), circa 1909, was one of Chico's finest hotels in the early 1900s, located on the southeast corner of Third and Main streets.2 Since 1917 Chico's Congregation Beth Israel has served as the main Jewish community between Sacramento and the Orego`n border. At times the congregation has met in member's homes or rented spaces, but eventually we were blessed with our own building at 1336 Hemlock Street.

Today there is also a small Chabad House community here as well as the Reconstructionist Chico Havurah, a congregation that was formerly part of CBI (not to be confused with CBI's Haverot women's group).3 In addition to Chabad, there is also a Hillel group on campus for Chico State's Jewish students. Its current director, Kristy Bresette, is a congregation and board member of CBI.

In 1917, Morris Oser was elected as CBI's first congregational president. Bernard Koltonowski became the first vice president. J. Oscar Goldstein was secretary treasurer, with Samuel Korn, Isadore Greitzer & Dave Breslauer comprising the first board of trustees. In 1918 a permanent synagogue was established in the Ostroski Building at Second and Main Streets. The Chico Daily Enterprise described CBI as "the only synagogue north of Sacramento, beautifully designed and appointed according to Jewish traditions, with a seating capacity of about 100, ample for the present needs of Chico Jewry."4

To the right is the Ricka Ostroski Breslauer building

Isadore Greitzer (to the left) helped convert the space into a synagogue and designed the ark (or cabinet) containing the Torah scroll. The ark was crafted by the Diamond Match Company and installed by Isadore Greitzer. The Torah scroll was presented to the congregation by Ricka Breslauer (grandmother of current member Mendel Tochterman) of the nineteenth century Chico pioneer family. Handwritten with a goose quill and handmade ink, it was an honor and a treasure to be received by CBI. A local church donated benches for the synagogue.

Dedication of the initial synagogue on June 3, 1918 attracted wide interest. The dedication services began with a Hebrew prayer chanted by Attorney J. Oscar Goldstein, “in his rich baritone” as stated in The Chico Daily Enterprise. Mr. Goldstein served as lay leader from 1919 to 1924. Mr. Goldstein made introductory remarks. A benediction was then recited by Rabbi Herman Lissauer from Temple Beth Israel in San Francisco. He also delivered the sermon. Interestingly, Rabbi Lissauer, originally of New York, served the Orthodox and Conservative communities of San Francisco and at the time was youngest rabbi to have ever done so.

Due to a decline in the Jewish population, the synagogue was disbanded in the 1930’s. It was briefly revived during WW II when an Army Corps Base was established at the Chico Municipal Airport. Following the end of the war, the congregation was again disbanded. At that time the Torah was entrusted to the Reform Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco for safekeeping.2

To Be Continued

Part Seven

References consulted:

  1. The Butte County Historical Society's publication Diggin's, Fall and Winter edition of 1985 (vol. 29, no. 3&4) has been very helpful in researching this series of articles. Special thanks are due to Professor Rosaline Levenson of Chico State University, and to our own Professor Irv Schiffman who contributed to its publication.
  2. Photo courtesy of Chico Museum.
  3. Chabad Chico, Chico Havurah, Chico Hillel.
  4. From CBI's History of the Congregation, excluding my edits and additions, this history was written by long time CBI member Jean A. Corwin of blessed memory.

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